To be read in continuation of the following articles of mine:
The Western campaign — by exploiting the fig leaf cover of the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 for protecting civilians in Libya— to work for a regime change in Libya has come face to face with three disturbing ground realities within a fortnight of the launching of the military campaign:
Ground Reality No.1: The campaign has been exploited by Gaddafi to skillfully transform what was a civil war between his supporters and opponents into a war of national resistance against foreign invaders from the West, who are projected as the modern day crusaders. He has been able to successfully appeal to the sense of patriotism of the soldiers of his Army and para-military units. The results: His soldiers are fighting with greater skill and greater competence than those of the rebel armies. The initial gains made by the rebels under the air and missile cover provided by the US and other NATO countries have been reversed in many places. Desertions from the Libyan security forces, which were threatening to gather momentum before the Western military campaign, have practically stopped.
Ground Reality No 2: US military commanders have started developing a feeling of disquiet that they have rushed to the help of a rebel army about which they know so little. The disquiet has been caused by a gnawing realization that some of the rebels had fought with Al Qaeda in Iraq and are Iraq returnees. There was never much love lost between Gaddafi and Osama bin Laden. They strongly disliked each other. Gaddafi saw to it that Al Qaeda did not develop roots in Libya. He prevented those Libyans who had gone to Iraq from coming back to Libya. The suspicion that some of these Libyans of Iraqi vintage have now come back to Libya and have joined the anti-Gaddafi groups has created fears that the Libyan misadventure might provide fresh oxygen to Al Qaeda. The good rebels vs the bad rebels syndrome has started haunting NATO military commanders.
Ground Reality No 3: An unanticipated outcome has been the feeling in Iran and North Korea that Gaddafi was unwise in surrendering his nuclear option under Western pressure. While Iran has not publicly expressed this feeling, North Korea has not concealed it. It is being pointed out that if Gaddafi had retained Libya’s nuclear option, the West would not have dared to intervene. Gaddafi’s experience is being cited as an argument to justify North Korea’s resisting the US pressure to give up its nuclear option. The impact on the USA’s non-proliferation campaign is going to be negative. After what happened in Libya, Iran and North Korea would be even more determined than in the past to resist US pressure on this issue.
There are signs of a re-think in the West on the advisability of carrying on the campaign in its present form. The US has reportedly stopped firing Cruise and other missiles against Libyan government positions. Air strikes have been reduced in intensity. So too, the anti-Gaddafi rhetoric. The US seems to be looking for a face-saving solution. Will Gaddafi provide a face-saving formula? Like Saddam Hussain, he is a defiant fighter who is prepared to fight till the bitter end if that becomes necessary. Unlike Saddam, he is amenable to compromise solutions which would safeguard his position, protect Libyan national interests and prevent an irreparable breach with the West. One saw these qualities in the way he handled the nuclear issue.
Is the Libyan imbroglio moving towards an interesting climax or anti-climax?
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and , presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies